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Personnel Staffing, Inc.

Skills Gap Gives Workers Unprecedented Power, Perks

I’ve reported before on the skills gap in manufacturing, and predictions by economists and industrialists that millions of jobs will go unfilled. To combat the problem of workforce atrophy and a lack of trained replacements, some companies have taken unprecedented steps to secure highly qualified applicants and to retain workers in whom they’ve already made training investments. With the shortage of skilled workers becoming more acute, employees’ ability to advocate and negotiate has been multiplied.

One such facility, a wiring factory in Indiana, is offering treatment for opiate addiction as a way of coaxing new recruits and keeping existing employees. Eager to avoid losing the investments of training skilled workers, the factory sees a failed drug test as a trigger for more support, rather than a layoff.

CNC Machinist at ZYCI

Machinist programming a machining center at ZYCI CNC Machining in Atlanta, Georgia

Drug treatment therapy, not just for existing workers who fail drug tests, but for promising incoming employees, is a perk not many companies would consider offering. Especially in a rural company town, the skills gap has meant unprecedented power for workers to negotiate for benefits and compensation to keep them on the factory floor. Where the opiate crisis has hit hardest, as many as a quarter of all factory workers may be struggling with addiction and all its outside stresses. Workers injured on the job are frequently prescribed opiates for pain and may develop dependence, increasing costs related to absenteeism, disability claims, and safety risks. Only the dearth of available workers makes rehab as cost-effective as replacing a worker.

A survey from CareerBuilder reports 25 percent of employers in manufacturing have lost revenue due to unfilled vacancies, and many are offering extended overtime pay to existing workers as they struggle to keep production lines running. Difficult-to-fill production jobs now command a wage premium, partially in an attempt to lure job seekers who might prefer other fields. Industrial engineers and other tech-savvy factory jobs offer four or five times the salary of a floor assembly role.

Another key benefit workers have been able to negotiate as their value rises is on-site and in-role training. Employers who could previously depend on trained and certified workers to arrive at interviews are increasingly willing to offer training and certification to less-qualified but more readily available entry-level workers. Training is often paid and may reduce onboarding time by training participants for specific roles and proprietary systems. For established workers, training opportunities may increase retention by assuring upward mobility within a company.

The tight labor market has led some employers to establish on-site child care to lure qualified parents. Regulatory oversight burdens and increased insurance premiums have historically dissuaded employers from considering child care as a benefit, but in the face of increasing competition for skilled workers, it may rapidly become practical. Tax deductibility for both facilities and parents, as well as reduced absenteeism and increased time on-site, can help recapture expenditures.

Once unimagined perks, from double-digit 401K matches to chef-supervised catering, trips on the company jet to 100-percent-employer-paid healthcare, bring your dog to work days to free exercise classes, are popping up all over the industry.

As manufacturers continue to face an aging workforce and difficult recruitment, skilled workers can expect many more hyper-competitive subsidies and support programs. Those with the know-how to increase manufacturing productivity will command increasing premiums. Tell a young person you love about how lucrative and enjoyable being in demand can be.

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